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Member Spotlight: Vaughn Bell

Monday, November 29, 2021 11:02 AM | Callie Smith


November 29, 2021

This week we recognize the work of artist  Vaughn Bell.

Featured is her project "All the Rivers in the World, Tacoma," from 2019, awarded by the Washington State Arts Commission in partnership with the University of Washington, Tacoma.

Members of the UWT community participated in this public art piece with the following prompt:

Think about rivers: the rivers you know, remember, and are connected to. Where has the water flowed in the places of your childhood and your current home? What is the name of your river? Write it in the language most meaningful to you.

After drawing and writing the name of their river, community members were invited to make objects using clay mixed with sediment from the Puyallup River. This tactile activity was meant to encourage a peaceful, meditative moment and sense of connection to the local landscape.

Before the railroad cut the “prairie line” across this stretch of land, other lines coursed this way: the paths of creeks, streams and rivers leading to Puget Sound, footpaths and game trails. The Puyallup River, our local river, is the original line and continues as life-line. Its name is also the name of the original people of this place.

“All the Rivers in the World, Tacoma” is a public art project that reflects on the Puyallup river as life line and connector. It also emerges from the current life of Tacoma and the University: as a cosmopolitan place, home to many immigrants, people from all over the world. This idea has a precedent even before this site was a university. According to the historic assessment of the Prairie Line Trail, “More than half of Tacoma’s residents were immigrants by the early 1900s.” These immigrants came from all over the world and many worked in the buildings that now house the university. Now, students, faculty and staff continue to come from many places to be part of this community.

All of the river names included in the piece were given to the artwork by members of this community. The design of the river form itself is based on the shapes of real rivers. The resulting shapes reflect actual shapes of some of the rivers named in the piece. This hybrid river combines many river forms and shapes.

The Lushootseed words were included in the work with the approval of the Puyallup Tribal Council and the collaboration of UWT faculty member and Tribal Liaison Danica Miller. The typographers who collaborated on the design of the work used a specially designed Lushootseed typeface for these words. Upon the advice of Danica Miller, the Lushootseed words were not capitalized in keeping with the proper way of writing place names in this language.

Vaughn Bell is an artist whose work focuses on the complexities and paradoxes of human interactions with places, natural forces and other species. Recent exhibitions have included installations in London, Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Paris. Since 2018, she has been working with horticulturalists at Kew Gardens on the exhibition Plantscapes for Summer 2021. In addition to exhibiting works at museums and institutions, she often works in the public realm on artworks rooted in local communities and ecologies. Bell is a part-time faculty in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Tacoma, where she teaches and has developed curriculum on public art, ecological art and creative practices. vaughnbell.net

Featured Images: ©Vaughn Bell, All the Rivers in the World, Tacoma, 2019.

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